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Does hooliganism need to be tempered?

There’s a saying that you may have heard of before.

‘There’s always one bad egg’.

Whilst for the most part, this is true, it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept it and move on.

When it comes to football fans, the saying remains relevant. Every club will have those that don’t care for crossing the line between friendly rivalry and genuine hate for one another.

We don’t even need to look at seasons gone by to find examples of when this occurs.

Aston Villa and Birmingham City are fierce rivals and this season, they faced off against each other in two West Midlands derbies in the English second division.

Villa claimed bragging rights in both contests, running out 4-2 winners at home in November and 1-0 winners at St. Andrews in March.

But the second match brought about one of the most disgusting acts we have ever seen on a football field.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, with his back turned, was attacked by a Birmingham fan and copped a wild right haymaker that sent him crashing to the floor.

Fortunately, not only was Grealish unharmed by the attack, but he didn’t get up and try to exact revenge on the fan. The incident was quickly brought to a halt when Villa players and ground stewards stepped in and restrained him.

Grealish had the last laugh, scoring the winner and seeing his side home as victors. But it was a dark day for football, showcasing that some idiots that we thought were a thing of the past had slipped through the cracks.

Two more recent instances took place in the Champions League semi finals. After Ajax’s 1-0 win against Tottenham, some Spurs fans were seen throwing punches and beer bottles at Ajax fans in the middle of a London street.

Similarly, a few thousand kilometres west in beautiful Barcelona, some locals were attacked by Liverpool fans who, inexplicably, began dumping them into a nearby fountain.

Perhaps the most disgusting act of hooliganism seen this season was from the Southampton vs Cardiff City fixture earlier this year.

The match took place very soon after the extremely tragic death of Cardiff City signing Emiliano Sala, who died on a plane flight to Cardiff from former club, Nantes in France.

Sala’s death brought the football world together in mourning but for some, it was merely a chance to tear it open again.

In this video, a Southampton fan can be seen making plane gestures to the travelling Cardiff fans, a deplorable act which was met with much criticism online. Southampton have vowed to ban the fans who made these gestures.

Now, there’s no problem with being passionate about your soccer club. There’s also no problem with having fun on an away trip. But it’s these moments when people seem to just want to create problems and when that happens, it’s not good for anyone.

Granted, these hooligans don’t represent their club’s entire fanbase, but they do represent their club. These Liverpool fans can be seen laughing and mocking the local people of Barcelona and whilst they may feel they’ve done nothing wrong, they’re contributing to the image that their club has across the globe.

This isn’t solely aimed at these Liverpool fans either. Other clubs certainly do it and the same thing occurs to them.

Hooliganism can positively contribute to the soccer image across the globe. When done right.

There will always be one, two or maybe more who feel the need to commit such condemnable acts. But if clubs can start taking more serious action against these people, like Southampton did, it will demotivate those thinking of doing something similar.

It will show the club in a more positive light, show that they don’t stand for such acts and in general, it will allow hooliganism to adapt to the now and become, again, a more positive influence on soccer society.

All good things take time. But the more times we see such incidents, the more we wish we could hit the fast forward button into a time when these acts occur less.

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Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

Does the A-League need a Big Bash style experiment?

The fans roar as the fireworks explode – with music blasting a Mexican wave engulfs the stadium. Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) has succeeded in attracting families to their sport, which is something that the A-League could look to replicate.

The A-League could learn from both the failures and successes of the Big Bash League to rejuvenate football in Australia, with a BBL style concept to attract consumers and fans to the A-League in a unique manner.

However, an approach into a BBL style experiment would have to be taken carefully as there is a fine line between creating a product that is viewed as a serious competition and creating a product that is looked down upon such as AFLX.

The BBL’s peak was on January 2, in 2016 when 80,883 fans packed into the MCG to watch a match between the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades.

While the Big Bash has been in a supposed decline in popularity since, the league has still been able to produce some large attendances.

54,478 people attended a Melbourne Derby on January 4 earlier this year – the third highest crowd for a BBL game in the league’s history.

Meanwhile the A-League’s highest crowd before COVID-19 interrupted the 2019/20 season was 33,523 people at October’s draw between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

Cricket Australia’s success with the BBL came from creating an experience geared towards families and children – with pump up music, fireworks and flamethrowers that were suited to T20 cricket with its high scoring, exciting and shorter format.

Former Liverpool star Craig Johnston has suggested an idea of what an A-League version of the BBL would look like.

“Four quarters, 15 minutes each, rotating substitutes, sin bins, all the things you’re not allowed to do in soccer,” he told The Daily Football Show in 2019.

“So effectively in midfield, you could take a touch, get past a player and you could shoot for goal. Then the goalkeeper’s either saving that shot or it’s a goal.”

“We’re utilising the same players but we’re taking out their midfield and we’re giving the players and the consumers four times more of what they want in the quarter of the time.”

Johnston believes that a Big Bash style format should be adapted by Australian football with A-League teams.

“The big idea is the Big Bash of soccer, but then the kids copy it at their training grounds,” he said.

“It is professional six-a-side with A-League teams. The A-League teams split in half, red versus blue, they play against each other.”

“The Big Bash and the One Day series is the best thing that ever happened to cricket in terms of engaging young minds and future minds.”

If the A-League was to try BBL style product it would need to make sure the best players are available – a weakness of the Big Bash has been that some of the biggest names in Australian cricket do not play regularly in the competition as the league clashes with international fixtures.

An A-League Big Bash competition would also be taken more seriously if the best players were playing regularly.

Perhaps the naming rights sponsor of the competition could provide a cash prize to the winning club, to entice clubs to field their best players.

One lesson that the A-League could learn from the Big Bash is that it has been made too long, something that even stars of the competition like Glen Maxwell have admitted.

“I think the length of the tournament when it was 10 games, I think we all really enjoyed that. I think it was the perfect amount,” Maxwell told SEN in early 2020.

“I just think 14 games is just a little bit much. It just makes for a very long tournament and probably goes for a touch too long.

“With school starting again it makes it a bit more difficult to keep the interest levels going until the end (of the season).”

The Big Bash was at its best when there was a limited number of games played predominantly in the school holidays.

If each A-League team played each other once in a new competition it could have an 11 game season plus a short finals series.

Ideally the A-League Big Bash concept would need to have as many games broadcast on free-to-air as possible – in order to easily accessible to fans.

There seems to be a lack of momentum coming into the 2020/21 A-League season, which is just under a week away. An Australian football version of the BBL could potentially be played as a lead in tournament to the A-League season, bringing attention and hype to the beginning of the competition.

Former South Melbourne FC president weighs-in on second division

Former South Melbourne FC President George Vasilopoulos has provided his insights into the National Second Division, stating he believes many issues which prevented its formation in the past still exist.

But despite the financial and geographic barriers, Vasilopoulos remains optimistic that the inception of a promotion/relegation system could reignite Australian football.

“People have been wanting to do it since the National Soccer League was established in 1977. Can you imagine how exciting it would be? People would fill up stadiums to see their team challenge for promotion,” he said.

“It would give football fans a new lease on life. There would be more sponsorship, more members, and more support.”

Reenergising the A-League is a current priority for the game’s leading administrators. With average crowd numbers stagnating over recent seasons despite growing participation, Australian football is at somewhat of a crossroads.

“The A-League started very well. I was so pleased to see large crowds attending the games but over time hit a bit of a downturn,” Vasilopoulos said.

“It takes time to build things and I am keen to see how it will play out, but recently crowds have gone down. This naturally leads to a reduction in sponsorship and money. Administrators have to work harder to find dollars which creates pressure.”

As an administrator for almost 30 years, including a 13-year period as President of South Melbourne FC from 1989-2002, Vasilopoulos attended many meetings to brainstorm a second division’s viability.

Unfortunately, the league never materialised, and he believes many of the issues that administrators faced then are still obstacles today.

“The second division has always been discussed. It would be a huge benefit for the sport, but the issues today are the same – there is a tyranny of distance in Australia and the key question remains, how will it all be funded?” he added.

“We could never come up with a legitimate strategy to make it work. Flying teams and their staff regularly over long distances is extremely expensive, not to mention accommodation and all of the other costs associated with it.”

The feasibility of a National Second Division may lie in modern solutions, with a conference style system touted to minimise travel proving a popular idea.

“Conferences with the winners playing off in a tournament is a brilliant idea. That would generate interest for fans and viewers who would know there is a massive prize at the end of it all,” Vasilopoulos said.

“You see how people react to knockout football with the popularity of the FFA Cup. There’s a lot of interest in seeing lower league clubs challenge for the cup but having a prize like promotion at the end of it would take it to another level.”

With a conference system a legitimate option to solve travel concerns, administrators are beginning to piece together a realistic model for the division. Although much work remains to be done, the formation of the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) Championship Partner Group will only bolster funding and support, with the group’s 35 member clubs aiming to launch the second-tier in 2022.

“Having these strong, historic clubs like Marconi, Sydney Olympic, South Melbourne, Heidelberg and so on supporting the division will only help to get it off the ground. Generating that interest in the grassroots is important but if these clubs want to go up, then someone must come down and creating a system that involves relegation may be a real challenge,” Vasilopoulos said.

“Relegation may make it impossible financially. There are a wealthy people behind these clubs who contribute a lot of funding. Would a person want to put money into a club, millions of dollars if they are at risk of being relegated?”

“It’s difficult because there is definitely merit to a second division with promotion and relegation, but clubs would need financial support.”

Vasilopoulos added that a short-term solution could involve promotion without relegation, at least in the interim to top up the league and build momentum before eventually bringing in relegation down the track once the system has matured.

“From this season there will be 12 teams in the A-League. If they want to bring in a system slowly, they could have promotion playoffs for the first few years without team’s in the top league facing relegation,” he said.

“In the old National Soccer League there were 14 teams. We could create a system where for the first few years the winning second division team gets promoted and builds the league’s numbers up. This would give FFA time to create a sustainable system over time.”

For more information on the Championship Partner Group, visit here.

 

Sport Australia launches resource to assist community clubs post COVID-19

Sport Australia’s has launched Game Plan, a new diagnostic tool designed to help clubs bounce back after the effects of COVID-19.

The resource replaces the pre-existing Club Health Check and will provide administrators the means to test their clubs performance in order to identify areas of improvement.

“We know sporting clubs have had to adapt to our ‘new normal’ so sport can return and that can come with challenges,” said Rob Dalton, Sport Australia Acting CEO.

“Many sporting clubs are also run by volunteers who may be time poor or have varying levels of experience in running a club. Our Game Plan tool is designed to make life easier for these clubs by connecting them with information and resources they need to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Administrators can check how their club is performing in 13 key areas including four foundation modules that underpin all club operations – Governance, Strategy, Finance and Workforce.

The modules are quick and easy to complete. Once a club has finished a module, they receive a maturity rating, information and resources to help them improve, and an action plan to assign responsibilities and timelines.

“The best part about our Game Plan is that it’s not limited to a single user – any administrator of a club can complete modules suited to their role, whether that’s coaching, sponsorship or finance. Clubs can also access the platform at any time to assist them in or outside of season,” Dalton added.

The new tool has already received positive feedback from administrators who work in a range of sports, including football.

Minister for Youth and Sport, Richard Colbeck said Sport Australia’s Game Plan is another way the Australian Government is supporting sport through COVID-19 and beyond.

“A key focus of Game Plan is assisting community level sporting clubs and volunteers as they recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Clubs and sporting organisations can access resources to help them grow their membership base as well as support the recruitment and retention of volunteers in a new sporting environment,” he said.

Sport Australia’s Game Plan can be found at gameplan.sportaus.gov.au or read more at the Club Development page.

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